Five drivers outside the Chase will start inside of the top 10 in Goody's 500 this weekend.
Could this be the week a driver outside of the Chase steals a win from the eight remaining title contenders on Sunday?
Certainly, polesitter Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart, who starts fourth, hope to do just that.
McMurray topped the speed chart with a lap of 99.905mph (18.954-seconds), his second pole this season. Despite posting two top fives and three top 10 finishes in the Chase, since the No. 1 Chevy isn’t participating in the play-offs, McMurray has been off the radar.
It’s about winning every week.
“You run in the top five all day long and you probably don’t get the recognition that you would if it was the first round of races versus not being in the Chase,” McMurray said. “So, it’s important to win, but no more now than what it would be six months ago or the second race of the year.
“It’s about winning every week. It doesn’t matter which race it is, what track it is, you show up every week to win. It’s not any more important now, but it would be nice.”
The field is stacked
Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Stewart and Denny Hamlin rounded out the five. While McMurray has yet to win at Martinsville other non-Chasers such as Jimmie Johnson (seventh) and Kurt Busch (10th) have multiple victories at the track.
Now we have a race winning set-up, but you have to continue to evolve in this game.
“The guys that ran up front that got the pole and the top fiver’s they were fast,” said Busch, who outran Johnson for his second win at Martinsville in March. “For us I feel like we have balanced the car the best we were going to find it for today’s package. We will learn from what we did today and apply that to race trim tomorrow.
“Now we have a race winning set-up, but you have to continue to evolve in this game.”
Ready for a comeback
Stewart tied his best starting position on the half-mile track since moving into the No. 14 Chevy in 2009. In 2011, the last time Stewart finish started fourth, he went on to secure his third Martinsville clock – the unique trophy awarded to the winner.
Stewart admitted that qualifying is “real important” at Martinsville due to the constraints of pit road.
Every stall is like a shoebox. It’s like putting a pair of shoes in it; that’s all you can get in it.
“More than anything it means pit stall selection and that’s the biggest thing,” Stewart said. “Every stall is like a shoebox. It’s like putting a pair of shoes in it; that’s all you can get in it. They aren’t very big. It’s very hard depending on who’s in front of you and who’s behind you. If you don’t have an opening, you can’t really guard it. If all three of you are on the same lap and you come in to your spot it’s really hard to get in and out of your box. If you can get an opening, a clean in or a clean out it’s a big advantage.
“We got a little bit of a break there hopefully, and that can be the biggest key to what happens. That’s a good run for us. We haven’t qualified that good here in a while. I’m proud of Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and the whole Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team. They did an awesome job.”
Putting it to the test
McMurray and his Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson tested at Martinsville earlier this month. The driver credits his crew chief Keith Rodden and team engineer Josh Sell with providing him with a baseline to earn his second pole at Martinsville in the last four years and his 11th career pole overall.
So can he be a spoiler on Sunday?
“I’ve been lucky enough to win three or four Chase races, not being in the Chase,” McMurray said. “It wouldn’t be totally a new to me, but yeah, this is a track that I’ve really run well at and I’ve got to win some really big races. Probably the night race at Bristol and here would be the two for me I would love to be able to get a victory at and actually get a clock this time.”